This story is by Scarlett Boleyn and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A damaged tombstone breaks my fall. All that’s legible on its weathered pink marble is the date – 1922. Dragging myself up on its rough edges my fears are realised as I gaze out over the ocean.
The last ferry’s silhouette fades to black against the wide brushstrokes of red, yellow and orange hovering at the horizon. It skims over the dark water, cutting a silver-grey path in its wake, as the sea swallows the sun. Despite my sprint here, I’m too late. I’m stranded here on Kendric Island. I can’t believe the troupe have left without me. Especially Stu.
Reading it again now, the capitalised writing on the back of Stu’s card triggers an unwelcome memory from a past I thought I’d left behind. Eddie writes in capitals too. For two years I’ve looked over my shoulder; but today I let my guard down.
“GRACE. MEET ME AT THE AUDITORIUM AFTER REHEARSAL. STAY IN COSTUME. I’VE AN IDEA FOR YOUR EXIT THAT WILL BE UNFORGETTABLE. STU.”
The producer of this show, Stu, is both brilliant and demanding. Not to be crossed. He sees this event as the gateway to reopening Kendric Island to tourism. He’s very invested, as he also owns the island.
Still wearing my beautiful but ridiculous costume, I’d raced to the estuary when Stu didn’t appear at the auditorium. Standing on the bank now, gazing at the mainland, reality hits me, as do the first plump drops of warm rain. Looking skyward, I understand the expedited exit of the last boat of the day. A gathering canopy of cloud is turning purple and black, menacing, with anger about to explode.
From the corner of my eye, I see a shape vanish into the foliage. Shivers run across my body despite the heat. It’s the wet season, hot and humid, the air almost as wet as the rain itself. Legend has it that 100 years ago, in 1922, Cassiopeia Vigilanco, a successful actress, was murdered by her husband. Her shadowy figure with its long renaissance hair has been reputedly sighted flitting around the island for years, and more often since the restoration of the outdoor auditorium this year. Fortunately, I don’t believe in ghosts. I never have.
My heart fuelling my exit, I gather my full skirts and race back to the only place I know on the island – the auditorium. Housed on the grounds of a crumbling mansion, it’s surrounded by a wild tangle of vines and foliage. A rough temporary track has been created to allow access to the jetty. The soft shimmering silver of my gossamer-light dress is snagged and stained green as the Madeira vines snake across my path, hampering my progress.
At the auditorium, I head for backstage, the only covered section. Looking for my own clothes, I realize they are gone from the rack and a single rose is suspended from the hanger. A shadowy figure moves in the costume racks, vanishing as I turn to look.
The sound of ripping metal follows a lightning strike, as the galvanized iron roof is torn back like the top of a tin can. The sky is black now, the moon diminished, hazed by the thickening clouds.
Lightning strikes again, flashing off the row of mirrors. I glimpse an indistinct reflection in them along with my own drenched form. My mind jerks back to Cassiopeia’s story and her reputed sightings. An icy breeze races through, rustling through the costumes and making them flutter in sequence.
A cloak takes flight, landing at my feet. It’s scarlet red and unfamiliar; I can’t place it in the cast’s costumes. In a heartbeat, I’ve thrown it over my shivering body and in another I’m out of the side door. A strange odour of violets emanates from it as the relentless rain pelts me.
When we’d arrived earlier this morning for our first rehearsal in the newly refurbished auditorium, I’d noticed a row of houses. Typical of the era and the climate, they were built into the cliffs. The sun had flashed on their wide windows, built facing the water to capture the mesmeric views of the ocean as it crashes onto the rocks below. Some of the houses are still occupied. I head for their refuge.
Lightning strikes; it bleaches the cobblestone pathway white. The shadow flits to my left, so I head right. Sharp pebbles litter the path, stabbing through my shoes as I hobble down the entrance lane to the houses.
Jutting out on platforms that overlook the ocean, a narrow boardwalk suspended over the cliff is the only access to their front doors. I can feel the power of the ocean below as it crashes onto the rocks, making the boards shudder beneath my feet. The noise, the rain, the lightning, the thunder and Cassiopeia’s legend heighten my fear and Stu’s card flies from my shaking hand.
I remind myself, I don’t believe in ghosts. All I have to do is wait till this storm passes. Tomorrow there’ll be another ferry. And Eddie is long gone. Isn’t he? The resemblance to Eddie’s writing has just unnerved me, that’s all.
A light glows in the second house. Gasping, I beat my fists against the door’s peeling white paint. A loud crack as the lock fractures the wood, and it swings open. My eyes adjust to the dim light, revealing silhouettes of furniture draped with covers that only dust motes call home now.
Maybe I should try another house… The wind howls. Its fangs whip under the cape, forcing me inside. I close the door, but the broken lock rattles and the wind threatens to burst it open. Shivering from the cold now, I remove the cape and then my sodden gown. It falls to the dusty, splintery floor with a squelch, landing next to an oar, perfect for fortifying the rattling door. Once the oar is in place, the rattling stops. I choke on the breath I’ve been holding.
The storm subsides, and I stare out through the dirty salt-caked windows to the ocean. Moonlight breaks through the cloud and shines on the flat water, illuminating it like a pathway to another dimension.
Grabbing the nearest cover I throw it over my shivering limbs, securing it with a curtain tieback, like a toga. Examining the scarlet cape, I catch my nail on the initials embroidered inside, beautiful and curved they are from another era… C V…
This must have been hers! Cassiopeia’s!
My thoughts spin. A thumping outside echoes the beat of my thumping heart. Am I imagining it? No. Someone is outside, fists thrashing against the door. The oar rattles, shaking loose. A deep voice calls my name. My saviour, or my demise?
From the corner of my eye, I glimpse my saturated dress rising. Turning face-on, I see it dripping from a semi-transparent figure, a woman. Her fragile beauty enhanced by the transparency, she looks like a hologram. Smiling, she glides over to the side of the door just as it bursts open; the oar passes straight through her.
Angrier than I have ever seen him is Eddie. He’s changed in the two years since our divorce. Only his glittering black eyes confirm it’s him. They fix on me like a predator on its prey. His famous crooked smile brings back memories of other times, both good and bad – two sides of the same coin.
He levels a gun level at my heart.
The smile slides from his face when the figure glides in between us.
He turns paler than her, and she backs him up to the boardwalk’s weathered guardrail. His body thrown against it, the wood unable to support his weight, he crashes through it, falling backwards. His right hand clasps the boardwalk’s base, suspending him over the jagged rocks.
“Grace, help me! Please…” He smiles his crooked smile and I feel my heart tear.
I hesitate and then reach out to him. My hand almost meets his, white with strain. Then I see the icy flash in his eyes. Looking down, I see the gun dangling from his left hand. Painful memories and his final threat re-surface.
My foot comes down hard on Eddie’s knuckles.
We both watch mesmerized as my nemesis falls backwards, swallowed by the night.
The wind lashes, forcing us back inside. She throws on the scarlet cloak. The tatters of my costume slide to her feet in a sodden pile and she glides over to a broken mirror. Its ornate gilt frame struggles to hold the foxed shards together.
Smiling, she turns to me and summons me, her long hologram fingers curling one after another, dragging me towards her. I expect to see a drenched version of myself in my curtain toga. Instead I see Cassiopeia’s semi-transparent figure superimposed over mine.
Raising the hood over her wild hair, she steps into the mirror.
Only my reflection stares back at me now through the foxed shards.
I didn’t believe in ghosts. Then I met Cassiopeia.